Groups opposed to renewable energy development, for example, often call for a review under Act 250’s rules instead of Section 248, a separate set of statutes for energy projects. John Brabant, the director of regulatory affairs for Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which opposes large-scale wind, said his organization supports the study commission as long as it includes representatives from at least two municipalities.
The state’s land use law may go under the microscope in coming years.
Legislation now in the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee would create a study commission to review Act 250 and make recommendations to improve the law.
Proponents say Vermont faces challenges today that weren’t known in 1970 when Act 250 was adopted.
The bill, H.424, would charge the study group with a review of Act 250’s development rules “in light of current science and research and issues that have emerged during those 50 years, such as climate change.”
The study commission would consider changes that would lead to more development density in designated areas and greater protection for natural resources outside those areas.
Improvements to the application and appeals process for Act 250 would also be part of the review.
Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said a wholesale approach would be far superior to small modifications to the law that have watered down Act 250 over the years.
“Almost every incremental change of Act 250 … has weakened it, not strengthened it,” Shupe said.
The study commission, he said, would have the opportunity “to take a step back from what’s become an annoying, piecemeal, incremental adjustments [approach] to Act 250, and take a hard look at how it’s working.”
Changes to the appeals process in 2004, for example, have made the process more difficult for municipalities, environmental groups and developers, Shupe said.
“There’s a lot of frustration with the appeals process,” Shupe said. “We believe it’s gotten worse and slower.”
The study commission should also look at expanding the scope of Act 250, Shupe said.
“So little residential development goes through Act 250 that the incremental development is eroding our land base for our forest-based economy,” he said.
“Our goal in supporting [the bill] is that it’ll result in strategic changes that make it more effective and more widely supported by all the parties – developers, municipalities, everyone – but with an emphasis on being effective and addressing environmental problems,” Shupe said.
Act 250 enjoys broad support from a wide range of parties throughout the state, he said.
Groups opposed to renewable energy development, for example, often call for a review under Act 250’s rules instead of Section 248, a separate set of statutes for energy projects.
John Brabant, the director of regulatory affairs for Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which opposes large-scale wind, said his organization supports the study commission as long as it includes representatives from at least two municipalities.
The commission would have 12 members: six legislators, the chair of the Natural Resources Board, an environmental organization’s representative, a real estate developer, a member of the state planners association, a business owner who has obtained an Act 250 permit, and a member of one of the state’s business organizations.
The bill Friday afternoon passed out of the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee, where it originated.
It includes instructions to the committee to consider measures that would combat forest fragmentation, said the committee’s chairman, Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster.
Forest fragmentation was the subject of a separate bill called H.233 that did not make it out of the House natural resources committee. Legislators inserted language in the Act 250 bill directing the commission to study the issue.
It’s a reasonable vehicle to address a problem lawmakers have sought to take action on for years, said Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, a sponsor of both H.233 and H.424.
“The general consensus is that Act 250, if you go back to the original intention, there was concern then about our working forests and sprawl,” Sheldon said.
Legislators said they’d rather fold forest fragmentation provisions into the Act 250 study group than adopt a hastily written bill.
“I’d like to tell people that we looked at it upside down and sideways before moving it forward,” said Rep. Paul Lefebvre, R-Newark. “It’s worthy of study. It’s worthy of learning the public’s reaction to it.”
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